What is the relation, if any, of the concept of varna to the concept of karma? Of karma to the doctrine of reincarnation?
The concepts of varna and karma are each closely related to the eastern civilization religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Varna and karma go hand in hand with each other to explain themselves, as does karma with the doctrine of reincarnation. The complicated explanation of all of these concepts follows.
In order to understand the concept of karma, one must first understand the term varna. An appropriate definition would be the rise of class system, which the Hindus adhere to. An English translation of varna, however, is simply the word “color” (Noss 87). There are four social classes that break down the class system otherwise known as varna. Beginning with the highest class, there is the Brahmins or priests, followed by the ruling Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas (common people), and finally the Shudras (servants). The
Brahmins said that if one was a member of any of the first three classes to be extremely careful to avoid the Shudras (Noss 87).
Now that we have somewhat of an understanding of varna, the concept of karma can be more easily explained. Karma simply stated is that the way one lives his or her life now determines destiny or fate. In other words, the consequences of one’s actions in this life will determine what they do or become in the next life. Therefore, karma is what made one who he or she is in the present life due to the actions the person portrayed in his or her previous life. Karma is the cause of one’s destiny in the future life, and is what caused a person to be who he or she is today.
Now we will explain the relationship between varna and karma. Let’s imagine the following situation. There are two people living in the Vaisyas class of commoners. One of them does only good deeds, has good thoughts, and portrays an all around good sense of well being. The other person commits crimes, has bad thoughts, and portrays an over all sense of evil or no good. The first person will perhaps become a member of the Kshatriya class, moving up on the
wheel of samsara. The other person will most likely become a Shudra in the next life. So, perhaps in their most recent
previous lives’, the first person was a good person of the Shudra class, and samsara declared that he or she rise in class; and the second person may have been a bad person of the Kshatriya class, therefore he or she declined in class. There are endless possibilities, but the relationship between karma and varna is obvious here. Simply stated, karma determines varna.
Next we will look at the doctrine of reincarnation as it relates to karma. Reincarnation is an easier concept to grasp than karma. Reincarnation can be defined as the never-ending time line of life. In other words, we all have been someone or something else before or present life began, and after the present life is over, we will become someone or something else again. Karma is what determines who or what we will become. Karma develops our own fate and destiny for reincarnation. The life one lives now determines what he or she will be reincarnated as. Just as karma determined varna, karma now determines reincarnation. Just incase, these ideas are the true meaning of the after-life, I suppose I shall adhere to good karma so that maybe in my next life I can be a member of the highest class.